The 2012 Subaru Outback earns a superb Total Car Score -- placing it at the top of the Midsize SUV & Crossover segment. Although the Outback might look like a wagon that wants to be an SUV when it grows up, this straddling of genres results in a vehicle that critics feel has an excellent balance of utility, capability and refinement. True of all good crossovers, but especially apt here.
The Outback is powered by either four-cylinder or six-cylinder engines, all configured in Subaru's hallmark horizontally opposed boxer arrangement. The former gets credit for its economy, the latter for its muscle.
The only automatic transmission paired with the four-cylinder is a continuously variable one (CVT), a unit normally derided by critics for being slow-acting and prone to drone. The CVT in the Outback seems to be OK, since several reviews fail to gripe even once.
Handling and roadholding, though, are first rate, with only the steering catching flak for a lack of feel. Meanwhile, 8.7 inches of ground clearance beats even some more overtly off-road machines.
There's no option for a third row of seating, but the rear seats recline, and the Outback offers copious amounts of passenger space. The maximum cargo area of 71.3 cubic feet deserves a similar description.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has made the Outback a Top Safety Pick.
This generation of the Outback debuted two years ago, so the only changes for the 2012 model year are a new sound system for Premium trim versions plus the option of an even more upscale Harmon Kardon system. It's worth spending the money on better audio, because most critics feel the basic system is disappointing.
The five-seat 2012 Subaru Outback has permanent all-wheel drive and comes in 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 3.6R, 3.6R Premium and 3.6R Limited trims.
The first three use a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. This is linked to either a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The latter three trims have a 3.6-liter, six-cylinder engine that develops 256 hp and 247 lb-ft. It's connected to a five-speed automatic and has steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
The 2.5i starts off with air conditioning, power accessories, roof rails, automatic on/off headlights, reclining rear seats and 16-inch steel wheels. Premium brings 17-inch alloys, a better sound system with iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat.
Heated seats and mirrors join a Harmon Kardon sound system on the list of options for these two trims, which become standard in the Limited trim. This also gets the CVT, leather upholstery and wood trim.
Other options include a rearview camera, navigation, mobile internet and a moonroof.
The 3.6R models follow a similar pattern, except that 17-inch alloy wheels and bigger brakes (than those in the 2.5) are fitted to the entry level version. The 3.6R Premium also has a 10-way driver's seat.
Standard safety equipment includes stability and traction controls, front side and side curtain airbags, and ABS with brake assist.
EPA estimates for the 2012 Subaru Outback begin with 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for the 2.5/manual setup. With the CVT, those figures are 22/29/24 mpg. The 3.6 returns 18/25/20 mpg.
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